In high school sports, students push themselves to find their limits. That extreme physical exertion, however, can, at times, reveal some health conditions that need to be addressed.
All students participating in athletics should undergo a medical examination before participation, but even the best doctors may not be able to discover all threatening medical conditions. As a result, the training provided to coaches and event administrators to handle these situations may be the difference in saving lives.
One way to better prepare for such circumstances is to have access to an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED); however, just having an AED close by may not be enough. School leaders owe it to all stakeholders to create an actionable AED emergency plan; review the plan and expectations with their coaches, parents and athletes; and practice the plan with emergency drills to better ensure the safety of all athletes.
Create the Plan
Many schools across the country have created Emergency Action Teams – groups made up of administrators, teachers, coaches, athletic trainers and student leaders. These stakeholders meet to situations. When planning for heart health emergencies, teams can review what should happen and assign responsibilities.
As was the case in the Loganville High School incident involving student-athlete Claire Crawford, the school had defined roles for all parties. It can be as simple as creating a checklist, assigning responsibilities to designated stakeholders, routinely checking equipment, and making it known to all parties what the school’s expectations are in a time of medical emergency. The plan should establish the individuals responsible for the following tasks: 1) getting the AED; 2) alerting Emergency Services by calling 911; 3) starting CPR if necessary; 4) getting designated parties to direct ambulances and other emergency services coming to campus to the area of need; 5) getting parties to take the home and visiting teams to safe areas; 6) getting someone to supervise and direct the spectators as needed.
While these are the basic items, each school may have more specific site directions; however, creating a plan with your action team will lead to more effective responses if they are ever needed.
Review the Plan
At every professional sporting event and many college events, spectators are briefed by a video or public-address announcer on what to do in the case of an emergency. However, plans need to be reviewed for accuracy and meaning before publicizing them.
Once the school’s Emergency Action Team has a plan that is ready, it needs to be reviewed by school leaders. The athletic director, site and district administration need to be familiar with the plan as they may want to review documents with legal counsel and other district, section or state professionals. Once all parties agree that the plan is presentable, the principal, athletic director and coaches can publicize the plans. This level of dedication shows the coaches, athletes and community that the school places the safety of its athletes as its highest priority.
Practice the Plan through an Emergency Drill
Once the emergency plan is in place, it must be practiced through drills. Like any athletic contest, practice increases the likelihood of success. Emergency plans must be practiced so that everyone has a better understanding of what to do in a real emergency. Athletic cardiac incidents can occur at any time, including tryouts. It is for this reason that AED action plans need to be practiced as close to the start of the season as possible even if this means running a drill the first or second day of tryouts.
It is critical that there be no surprises. Administrators, coaches, parents and athletes should be notified at least one day prior to the drill and know their expectations so that the drill will not be confused as an actual emergency. Furthermore, in settings where spectators may be present, those running the drill must brief spectators before the drill begins so that they do not inadvertently contact emergency services for fear of an actual emergency.
The principal, athletic director, athletic trainer or designee could run the drill with a checklist to measure effectiveness. Specifically, the drill instructor should note: 1) the time the drill starts; 2) how long it takes for a coach or athletes to get the AED; 3) if everyone knows their role in the drill.
For example, an athletic director could approach one of the team members or coaches and set the stage by designating that individual as the one in need of emergency services. The designee can then start the drill by having the individual in need stop practice or coaching and act out the necessary emergency. At this point, the athlete or coach is isolated, usually in a prone position. What the “actor” does is not important; however, what the rest of the team does is crucial.
Drill instructors should note the following: 1) who takes command of the situation; 2) who gets the AED and how long does it take to arrive; 3) what could be made better in an actual emergency. It is important that all athletes be familiar with their roles and, if they are assigned duties, they should be sent off in teams of two in case a second emergency arises.
Reflect on Results
Once the drill concludes, the instructor needs to review the process, preferably with both the coaches and team members. This will be a time for dialogue in which the drill instructor, students and coaches can address issues they saw and clarify any questions that may arise. If an AED is used effectively within two minutes of need, the chances of survival increase dramatically. With this being the case, future drills can be planned for further instruction and checkpoints.
It has been documented time and time again that education- based high school sports can change lives for the better, and a part of that process must be to make sure that emergency plans are established and emergency drills are reviewed periodically to determine the most effective methods. Hopefully, the drills that you practice will be ones that you will never have to use, but having the drills will empower your staff, students and community to indicate that safety is a priority for everyone.
Steve Amaro, CMAA, is the tennis coach and athletic director at Freedom High School in Oakley, California, and a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.